This Lit Mag Does Criminal Justice Right
A creative writing journal from a college of criminal law? How fascinating. But, come to think of it, isn't writing the perfect way for people to understand, work through, react and respond to crime and punishment? J Journal: New Writing on Justice fills a well-delineated and needed niche, and it's a wonderful read besides. When they launched the journal, the editors tell us, they assumed contributors would be officers and inmates, judges and lawyers, but their early contributors were mostly established writers—and that turned out to be okay. However, in the four years since its inception, J Journal came to a balance in contributors and now you’ll find excellent contributions from police, inmates, friends of inmates, and poets, nonfiction, and fiction writers interested in the experience of crime, imprisonment, and justice. I love that the whole world of our attempts at justice gets a chance to speak in these pages.
Another surprise—the design of their magnificently spare and stylish cover! So the criminal justice scholars are artists too! Volume 3, No.2 (Fall 2010) is beautiful. Let’s sample the contents.
In "Grey Goose," Eugene Alexander Dey, an inmate, describes a long bus trip bringing him from one prison to another, and immediately we see how hard it would be for anyone else to have this perspective and write this piece; no one else would know what it feels like to step onto a bus with arms and legs chained, the problems of stretching and balance. And what does it feel like from the inside to pass the very site where you got busted, the place where your family lives, the place where you have a memory of feeling human.
Another memorable work, “On Being a Rookie,” written by a police officer, Bobby Garcia, works around a series of commands: “Sleep in.” “Believe the man is always the bad guy in a family.” “Answer to new names: Sparky, Rook…” “Shave.” “Hesitate.”
Larry “Ace” Boggess’s “Drug History,” clipped along in a memorable voice, and Andy Douglas’s “A Season of Neighbors” deeply and believably brought to life the complexities of apartment life involving a troubled family with kids.
One or two pieces had such a tangential connection to crime and punishment that it entirely eluded me until I went searching for it. Such was the interesting “Your Flower Boy,” by Charles Lowe, which follows a mainland Chinese industrial journalist through her workdays and her speculations that her husband has become a “flower boy,” flitting from one available young girl to another. She turns her story over to the police censor as she always does and removes a few literary references, fills out a form, goes through the motions, and it’s a sad commentary on the links between the censorship that occurs in every corporation and the self-censorship that accompanies it.
This would be a great volume to assign to a writing class or criminal justice class. Compared to most textbooks, it is a huge bargain at $10. And for writers, sharpen your pencils and contribute! (Paper only, please.)